On Thursday, Afrikaans lobby groups AfriForum and Solidarity lost their case at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) against the new language policy at the University of the Free State (UFS).
The university and AfriForum have been engaged in an legal battle regarding the policy since March.
The new language policy, which strives for multilingualism, promotes English as a medium of instruction with the introduction of a tutorial system in Afrikaans and progressively in Sesotho to assist first and second year students.
SRC president, Lindokuhle Ntuli told The Daily Vox that the SRC had called for the change in the language policy at the beginning of the year.
“The university claims to be the university that is leading in reconciliation and social justice, the university that is leading South Africa in transformation. It is in the best interest for the university and its students to pursue academics through one medium,” he said.
Thomas Kolathu, a student at UFS, told the Daily Vox that this decision has been a long time coming.
“It feels like it’s a solid commitment from management to transforming the university into a more inclusive space,” Kolathu said.
Ntuli said the current English-Afrikaans dual medium of instruction causes division among the students.
“What this decision means to us is transformation in the broader sense of the university with regards to integration of the students but as well as to how teaching has been conducted over the years,” he said.
The university had reached a unanimous decision to make English the primary medium of instruction following weeks of protest against its current language policy of English-Afrikaans medium instruction in March.
AfriForum was concerned that the new policy would only benefit students with English as a home language, infringing on the rights of Afrikaans-speaking students, prospective students, parents and employees. They pursued a court action to stop the change in the language policy.
In July, the Bloemfontein high court decided in favour of AfriForum to prevent the university from implementing its new language policy. However, in September, UFS was granted leave to appeal the ruling.
On Thursday, the SCA found that AfriForum failed to prove that any prospective students faced prejudice with the introduction of the new language policy.
— Johan Lorenzen (@JohanLorenzen) November 18, 2016
The Court also ordered AfriForum to pay the university’s legal costs.
Alana Bailey, deputy head of AfriForum, issued a statement saying the ruling was a temporary setback for Afrikaans instruction.
“AfriForum and Solidarity regard Afrikaans-speaking students’ access to Afrikaans instruction to be of the utmost importance and is prepared to defend this right on all platforms. Both organisations also support the development of private institutions that offer Afrikaans education and encourage the public to support both approaches,” she wrote.
Ntuli is convinced that the new language policy will benefit Afrikaans students too.
“Given our country’s direction as well as our interest in globalisation, it is only suitable for the university to adjust accordingly. The university alone is not an island, it cannot live in isolation as if it’s a university that is continuing to live in the past,” he told The Daily Vox.
In a written statement, UFS spokesperson, Lacea Loader, said the university was “pleased with the judgment handed down”.
UFS will pilot its language policy in 2017 with first-year students in the Law, Health and Humanities faculties. The dual medium English-Afrikaans policy will be maintained in the other faculties for 2017 and eventually phased out as per implementation plans.